You're right--there does seem to be an enormous amount of what might uncharitably be called filler in these papers. Big photographs of no particular importance. Reprints of speeches, statements, articles, etc. from other places (a la Harper's). And columnists, columnists, columnists. I suppose you're right that the reason must be that it's cheaper to fill the newshole with punditry, etc. than with real reporting. But I have to say I don't know of any American paper that feels it has to struggle to fill its newshole. Even those that use wire copy are, I'm sure, clamoring for more space and fighting the ad people for it. Of course some of this "filler" is quite good. Opinion writing here, although often self-indulgent, is in general more elegant than the equivalent in the U.S. But the columnists don't on the whole seem to do any real work to get ready for writing their columns. They just reel off whatever's on their minds, in much the way the thousands of talking heads on the thousands of hours of cable news in the U.S. do.
And lest other readers of our correspondence think that the royal family wasn't in the news today, there were the following:
--Screaming headlines in two tabloids about "New Diana Tax," with a vague hint that somehow she has been evading taxes in death. In fact, the government is now reconsidering its initial valuation of her estate and is considering upping the value and thus the tax the impoverished little princes will have to pay.
--Screaming headlines in another tabloid (and considerable space elsewhere) about the ex-wife of Earl Spencer (Diana's brother) going public with her history of addiction and anorexia and thanking her treatment centers for giving her a new life.
--Big color pictures (which, I notice, also appeared on the front page of the New York Times) of a monument to one of the few successful royal spouses, Prince Albert, which has been renovated after many years of neglect. It's being called Britain's Taj Mahal in both the London Times and the New York Times.